Top Five Rediscovered Collectibles - gems which should never have been lost

On Boxing Day in the UK, a documentary is to be shown assessing the case for a portrait being that of celebrated author Jane Austen depicted from life. It's a relatively unusual situation in which the excitement hinges not on the artist but the subject.

Indeed, it isn't even the subject as such that makes the difference: the work has 'Miss Jane Austen' written on the back, and there's no reason to think that the artist didn't intend it as a depiction of the writer of Pride and Prejudice. But then any of us could do that, and until now it has been suggested that it is an 'imaginary' portrait - not drawn from life.

Jane Austen scholar Dr Paula Byrne has suggested that it would be bizarre if such a portrait had been drawn as early as the 19th century as it is believed to have been, as Austen was not truly famous until long after her death in 1817.

As the portrait appears to show a genuine family resemblance, she argues that it is the first genuine portrait of Austen other than the frustratingly limited sketch drawn by her sister Cassandra. We'll bring you any more news as it comes. For now, here are our Top Five rediscovered collectibles:

Apollo flag fragments

Space is an unusual area in collecting in that it's quite possible for there to be extremely desirable collectibles in existence which no one has a hope of owning or even going to see.

For example, whilst space fans wouldn't necessarily be pleased if someone took a private trip to the lunar surface and snatched the flag which the Apollo 11 crew planted on there, we can guarantee there would be people wanting to buy it back here on Earth.

Apollo 11 flag fragments
Apollo 11 flag fragments

Earlier this year, Thomas Moser surprised everyone by offering the opportunity for collectors to do the next best thing: he presented material trimmed from the flag. Sent under the hammer at Ira and Larry Goldberg, it eventually brought $45,000.

The key to missing an iceberg

The sinking of the Titanic has proved to have an enduring effect on the minds of many. It is the accident, used as a byword for tragedy and failure in common speech and inspiring a huge Hollywood blockbuster.

Only a fateful combination of circumstances led to the 'unsinkable' ship going down on its maiden voyage. One of the most remarkable is that the crew could not access the binoculars. Of course it was dark anyway, but how much of a difference?

"Well, enough to get out of the way." was the blunt answer given by one of the lookouts who had been present when asked the question at the inquiry. Where was the key to the storeroom, the absence of which condemned so many to a cold, wet grave?

It turned out to have been kept in the pocket of a sailor transferred onto another ship at the last minute.

The key sold for £90,000 ($135,000) at Christie's in 2008.

The sunken Bugatti

If you're a classic car collector, you'll know that it's important to look after your ride. It must be carefully stored in a good garage and needs maintenance work done.

Or you could just dump it in a lake and see what happens.

Drives well in the wet... the sunken Bugatti
Drives welll in the wet... the sunken Bugatti

That was more the approach of the owner of the 1925, chassis number '2461' Bugatti. Although the circumstances of its dive aren't known, it has been speculated that the owner wanted to get out of paying import duties on the car which would have exceeded its value.

Salvaged after half a century, the rusty classic sold for €260,500 (approx $ today) in January 2010 at Bonhams.

The Framed Declaration

Surely the best ever flea market bargain, a financial analyst from Philadelphia bought a picture for its frame for $4, only to discover a version of the Declaration of Independence slipped behind the picture.

So far, so incredible, but the best was yet to come. It turned out not to be any old antique, but only the 25th known surviving copy of the Dunlap Broadsides. These were 200 manually printed copies, produced hours after the declaration was signed to be sent to the 13 colonies and beyond.

The Declaration sold for $2.4m in 1991.

The Lesser-known Leonardo

In 1998, Jeanne Marchig sold a portrait of a girl in profile at Christie's in New York for $19,000. Of course, that's not an amount of money to be sniffed at, but it's fairly unspectacular in the art world, and the sort of somewhat mediocre price you'd expect for something with the tag 'German school, early 19th century'.

Since then, however, the painting has become the focus of considerable intrigue and dispute, following Martin Kemp's claim that the work is in fact by one of the most famous artists in history, Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo's A Young Girl in Profile in Renaissance Dress
'Leonardo's' A Young Girl in Profile in Renaissance Dress

Kemp's ideas seemed to be confirmed not simply by artistic judgment, but by the trace of a fingerprint, which has been left level with the browline of the subject, and matches a fingerprint on another da Vinci work - one which he is likely to have created alone.

Carbon dating also confirms that the age of the painting is of the right time period. Whilst it still hasn't been confirmed beyond dispute, the case for the painting has remained strong since Kemp's intervention, and if true the work could be worth up to $100m.

Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock